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Orlando City’s Bench Must Be a Weapon in 2018

Which bench player could be for Orlando what Chicharito was for Manchester United?

SOCCER: JUN 14 US Open Cup - Orlando City SC v Miami FC Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Since Orlando City Head Coach Jason Kreis took over in the City Beautiful there has been a turnover of 21 out of 28 players. Guys like Kevin Molino, Luke Boden, Rafael Ramos, and Tommy Redding that had long histories with the club changed teams. Kaká retired and Cyle Larin destroyed his reputation.

Now there is a new team with a new mentality. Gone are troublemakers and partiers, and instead the roster is full of young talent and veteran leadership. The starting lineup is taking shape and players like Sacha Kljestan, Josué Colmán, Dom Dwyer, Yoshimar Yotun, and Justin Meram will be regular starters in 2018.

In addition to this mentality change, there needs to be a change on the bench. Cristian Higuita — who has the eighth-most appearances in Orlando City history — and Will Johnson will most likely lose their starting spots. Richie Laryea will join them on the bench and Pierre Da Silva needs to continue working to make a breakthrough.

The starting XI should be strong this year, with the most attacking firepower that Orlando has seen since 2013 — the last time Dwyer was in purple prior to his then-record-breaking trade. The defense might be shaky again, but the additions of Mohamed El-Munir, Amro Tarek, and Uri Rosell should provide some layer of security.

But what happens when the Lions are down a goal in the 70th minute and Kreis has to make a sub that will change the game in Orlando’s favor? Who comes off the bench to save the Lions?

It is in this time that Orlando needs a super sub. The super sub is the player who does not start but comes off the bench in a time of need. He’s the hero the team deserves, but not the one it wants to need. He will only have one or two chances in the game and must make them all count.

Think Chicharito with Manchester United. In his 158 games with United, the Mexican scored 59 goals and added 20 assists. That’s a goal or assist every other game with roughly half of his appearances coming off the bench. In 2018, Orlando City needs that kind efficiency off the bench.

The first player that jumps off the board as being capable of filling that spot is Stéfano Pinho. The two-time NASL Golden Boot and Golden Ball (NASL’s MVP) winner lit up the lower division and scored 43 goals from 2015 to 2017. The question surrounding the Brazilian is whether he can keep up that level of play in MLS.

While he may not start many games, this might actually be better for Pinho as there will not be much pressure on him to succeed right away. He can come off the bench and ease his way into things until he is up with MLS’s speed of play. With players like Kljestan and Yoshi in the midfield, Pinho will have the support he needs if he can get in the right positions and capitalize on them.

Laryea and Da Silva are two other players that could be Orlando’s super sub. Both are in similar situations, although Laryea has the slight upper hand. The Canadian had a breakout year in 2017 that helped him earn his first MLS minutes. He had one of the highest work ethics on the team and he seemed to get better every game.

In 2017, neither of the young midfielders’ abilities were up to the MLS level. Laryea was close while Da Silva has impressed this off-season, helping both of their cases for getting minutes off the bench this year. Both of them also have a youthful spark that ignites the team for a brief period when they enter the field, albeit Da Silva had this effect in USL. If they can keep this spark up for the remainder of the game when they enter, as well as be more efficient in the final third, then both have the potential to be the super sub Orlando needs.

Two more options are newcomers Cam Lindley and Chris Mueller. Both are young prospects who will not be given too many opportunities if they do not capitalize. The raw skill sets that the midfielders possess give reason to have high hopes for them, and they’re why the Lions sought them this off-season. However, with the aforementioned players ahead of Lindley and Mueller on the depth chart, the hard work must start in preseason and they can never let down. Had OCB not gone on hiatus, both could have gotten minutes on the developmental side to help their causes, but now they will have to work their tails off in practices to make a breakthrough in the roster.

Out of all the players that could be the super sub, Da Silva could be the most deadly if he lives up to his hype. At just 19 years old, he still has a lot to learn but playing with the new Lions will help his development. There is a reason he was the first player to go from the academy to OCB to the MLS side, and 2018 is his year to prove his worth.